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Reforming Civil Military Relations for Sustainable Democracy in Nigeria - Issues and Options for Consideration

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  • 1. Reforming Civil-Military Relations for Sustainable Democracy in Nigeria: Issues and Options for Consideration. By Dr J ‘Kayode Fayemi Centre for Democracy and DevelopmentIntroductionLet us begin from the hardly contestable premise that prolonged military rule has had an altogethernegative impact on the political development of Nigeria. Having been ruled by the military for much ofthe last three and half decades, Nigerians are no longer debating whether the military should return tothe barracks. It is largely a question of when they should go, and how their exit can be madepermanent. Besides the agreement over the inappropriateness of the military rulers in governmenthowever, no concrete ideas have emerged on what the role of the military should be in a democracy,yet it is taken for granted that a stable civil-military relations is a pre-requisite for sustainabledemocracy. This of course raises more questions that it answers, both in terms of sustainabledemocracy and a professional organisation of men and materials in the armed forces. Since thedemilitarisation of politic and the subordination of the military to objective civilian control are not endsin themselves, my task in this lead discussion paper is to find a deeper explanation to accompany anyreference to a stable and sustainable civil-military relations and posit some ideas on what the militarymission should be in a democracy.The experience of Africa in less than a decade after the post-cold war “wind of change” in which WestAfrica appeared to have disposed off the era of jackboots and bayonets and usher in democracycertainly calls for a more comprehensive understanding of a stable civil military relations. In the pastfive years, the region has regressed to one of “home-grown” democracies, quasi-dictatorships,personalised autocracies, military-backed civilian rule and never ending transitions. It also seemsobvious from this recent experience that while demilitarisation of politics may widen the space withinwhich democratic reform takes place, it does not automatically translate into a complete overhaul ofpolitics from its military roots, especially in a body politic that has become so atomised and, in whichthe symbols, values, and ethos of the military are replicated by large sections of the civil-society. Forthe purpose of this workshop therefore, the pertinent questions that should be answered are: what arethe obstacles to achieving a stable, sustainable civil-military relations and what, if anything, can theCentre for Democracy and Development (CDD) do to address those obstacles?Obstacles to a Stable Civil-Military Relations
  • 2. The first obstacle to a stable civil-military relations has been one of perception and misperceptionencouraged by the military’s legacy of colonialism. Given the role of the army as the defender of thecolonial authority, it was apparent that those arraigned against those in authority perceived the army asa reactionary force created to intimidate and oppress the ordinary people. Since many of thesenationalist leaders became the leading figures in the post-colonial State, there was always a deep-seatedsuspicion among them and the people they governed that the military was an institution to watch. Theinvolvement of the military in coup d’etat for much of the 60s and 70s decade only served to confirmthis view of the military as a conservative institution. Ironically, it was during this period that leadingWestern thinkers saw the military as ‘modernisers’. The leading military sociologist, Morris Janowitz,propounded the “political vacuum theory” arguing that the military was a catalyst for overalldevelopment ‘because of certain inherent characteristics which make it imperative for them tointervene in politics’. In the Eastern bloc, many tin-pot dictators received support from the SovietUnion under the guise of being vanguards for revolutionary change. The fact that these optimistic, butmistaken assumptions have followed closely on the heels of the ideological support and theoreticalbacking military rule received during the Cold War exposes the soft underbelly of the current state ofcivil-military relations literature. There was the ideological and intellectual argument that military rulecorrelated to nationalism and therefore, modernity throughout the Cold War era. The Western worldalso backed military rule as the best solution to economic liberalisation, since authoritarianism helpedensure the strictures of structural adjustment programmes. This gave the military institution in severalAfrican countries the political legitimacy they were deprived of by their own citizens even at a timegood governance became the condition for international aid assistance.Whether one agrees with such characterisations of the post-colonial army or not, external support andpolitical developments in much of Africa enhanced the place of the military in civil society, essentiallybecause it controlled all the instruments of coercion. Legitimacy was therefore bought by that control,but in the wider civil society, those who joined the armed forces were always seen as the rejectedstones. Given such a history, coupled with the actual retinue of repression and bad leadership, themilitary has always been seen as an occupation force1 and it will take a paradigm shift to reassure thepopulace that it is prepared to subordinate itself to objective civilian control without constituting itselfinto a further threat to national security.The second obstacle to a stable civil-military relations, in Nigeria, and in fact the rest of the sub-regionis the acute lack of knowledge of the military and security issues generally among the civilian politicalelite. This is a problem that was in fact triggered off by the deep resentment exhibited against themilitary by the civilian political elite. So bad has the problem become that the knowledge of themilitary is at best of times, sketchy, and at the worst, virtually non-existent. The military in Nigeria hasalways preyed on this lack of public knowledge, which has in turn precluded the development of a1 For a good background on the nature of civil-military relations in Nigeria, see J ‘Bayo Adekanye,Nigeria: In Search of a Stable Civil-Military Relations, (Boulder, Colo: Westview Press, 1981). See,also his inaugural lecture, “Military Occupation and Social Stratification, (Ibadan: University ofIbadan, 1992)
  • 3. civilian, strategic understanding of the operational requirements of an accountable armed forces. Ineffect, since the military has been responsible for both operational and policy control over defence andpolitical matters, there has been no alternative, countervailing system to scrutinise its decisions. Thislack of effective oversight is perhaps the single most important factor responsible for the demise of thefew civilian, democratic governments and the incipient return of military ‘democrats’ under variousguises in West Africa. The military profession, like any other, find it difficult to respect a boss wholacks a basic understanding of the institution. This is partly at the root of the derogatory remark oftenheard from soldiers, bloody civilians! in reference to the ignorance of the civil society about the natureof the military.In addition to the lack of effective oversight from the civilian political elite and the general populacemust be added the overarching absence of a clear and identifiable military mission tied closely to itstraditional duties and professional training. The threat of a military without a mission was moreevident in countries where the military is caught in the duality of responsibility for political anddefence matters such as in Nigeria. Ideally, military missions are determined largely by objectivesecurity threats faced by any country subject to periodic review. Objectively, a country like Nigeria,which does not face huge external threats, will be expected to redefine its role and mission toaccommodate the changing geopolitical realities. However, for a military that has always been insearch of a mission to justify its size and existence, the search for a mission has led the institution toengage in unnecessary forays into areas with little or nothing to do with the protection of Nigeria’sterritorial integrity. Objective security threats have therefore assumed the perception and realities of theruling elite with little attention paid to explaining the nature of the state and the complexity of theState-civil society relations. The effect of this has been a situation where the ‘ideas of the ruling classhave become the ruling ideas’. This has concentrated on how best to enhance regime security undersuccessive military regimes. To this end, military professionals are found running bureaucracies, anti-robbery squads, designing constitutions, engaged in internal security, humanitarian and disastermanagement as well as social welfare projects. This has serious implications in at least two broad areasfor sustainable civil-military relations.First, because the military has now acquired extensive experience running all kinds of civilian basedprojects with good opportunities for rent-seeking, the political experience and economic clout gainedfrom these involvement have eroded any notion of the military as an aberration in civilianadministration. In that period of time, the manner in which they have developed extensive links andpenetrated virtually every sector of the economy and industry remains one of the greatest threats tocivil-military relations in a post-military state. By the early 1990s when there was some availabledocumentary evidence, several retired and in a few cases serving military officers were alreadyinvolved in financial and industrial sectors as bank directors and company chairpersons. Although itmay be stretching credulity to contend that they comprehended their role in class terms, that of linkingfinance capital to the ruling State apparatus, they were all aware that their success in the unknownworld of finance depended on official actions through the unbridled deregulation championed under the
  • 4. military’s structural adjustment programme. Even officers who have not directly participated in this‘casino economy’ are known to be beneficiaries of some companies that served primarily toconcentrate money in the hands of a financial oligarchy closely associated with the rulers. The same isreplicated between oil and trading interests and successive ruling military elite as witnessed in their tieswith such companies like Julius Berger, HFP Engineering, Public Works Nigeria, Julius Berger, Cappaand D’Alberto, C & C Chagouri, and Costain, just to mention a few. Simultaneous with this has beenan increasing social stratification in which the military sits atop the pecking order in political andfinancial terms while the rest of the old pre-military industrial class depend on them for survival or aresqueezed out of their commercial ventures. Given the consolidation of military hegemony by theseextensive interests in the arguably ‘legitimate world of finance, oil and industry’, even if the militarywere to withdraw into its barracks, it may still exercise considerable “behind the scene” influence -with its penetration of every sector of the domestic economy in a variety of ways and undermine thenew and consolidating democracy. This has been the experience of some democracies in Asia –Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia and some parts of Latin America whereold type military regimes have succeeded in building ‘foundational’ governments.2The second problem this ‘mission-less’ threat poses is in relation to the military’s primary role ofdefence of the nation’s territorial integrity. By overextending its responsibilities beyond defence dutiesor redefining its defence duties to include other elements like nation-building and internal security, theefficiency of the fighting force is inevitably undermined. There is no doubt that the professionalism ofour soldiers has had its own setbacks due to their involvement in politics. This political usurpation ofmilitary talents has been shown to be bad in areas where the military is now needed to function like afighting force. Although the Nigerian military has a somewhat acquired a fine reputation in itscommitment to international peacekeeping duties, Nigerian soldiers have been found wanting on suchmissions for reasons not unconnected to the disorientation that automatically flows from bad militaryleadership. As a result, military counterparts from other countries often saw them as a bad influence ontheir own soldiers if they are allowed to interact for an extensive duration.In the context of sustaining a stable civil-military relations, the over-riding fact that the military inNigeria has now become entrenched in all aspects of civic and economic life makes its eventualremoval an area that will demand considerable skill in reassuring it and assuaging its fears about a post-military dispensation, finding an appropriate role and mission for those left behind in the institutionwho will want to maintain their professional autonomy; developing a civilian, democratic defencepolicy expertise and creating the necessary opportunities for networking and dialogue between militaryrepresentatives and civil society workers. To achieve the above, we consider below how otherconsolidating democracies have handled civil-military relations after prolonged military rule primarilyto refocus the military mission and subordinate a powerful military institution under civilian control.2 See Larry Diamond and Marc Plattner (eds), Civil-Military Relations and Democracy, (Baltimore:John Hopkins University Press, 1996)
  • 5. Comparing ExperiencesThe first thing to say is that no two countries have handled civil-military relations in a post-militarystate in the same manner. The unifying theme in all of the responses is the determination to assertcivilian supremacy and oversight and the subordination of the military to objective civilian control.The outcomes to this singular objective have however varied. From countries like Haiti, Panama andCosta Rica where standing armies were completely eliminated in search of a stable and sustainabledemocracy to those countries with a mixture of measures leading to surreptitious military influence,like in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Pakistan, South Korea and Bangladesh. In anothercategory, we have in Latin America, and in some respects in the Russian Republic, consolidatingdemocracies where the military is still actively involved in politics to others where the armed forceshave moved from a completely political orientation into conventional, professionally stable roles. Themilitary in Poland and to a large extent the liberation armies turned conventional militaries in theSouthern African region would qualify for such categorisation. In all of these cases, there are stillproblems with creating a solid civil-military relations where roles are clearly defined and missions fullyworked out, but the fact that the mission has been refocused, especially in countries like South Africaand Poland gives real cause to hope that military obstacles to sustainable civil-military relations are notinsurmountable. The consolidating democracy in South Korea seemed to have succeeded where othershave failed by reconciling punishment of past human rights abuse to stability when two former headsof state were sent to life jail for their role in the massacre of student demonstrators in the early 1980s.This certainly sets a precedent, which must be examined carefully in terms of its potential for long termstability.Yet, the experience of countries where the military has become so entrenched also gives much causefor worry about how successful the agenda for a sustainable relations with the military can be inNigeria, especially when one confronts the inevitable issue of amnesty or punishment for human rightsand political abuse committed by successive military authorities. Even in Latin America where themilitary never really saw themselves as an alternative to civilian, democratic rule, these problems werestill largely unresolved given the clout of the military. To take the example of Argentina and Chile,which appears to be the most favoured model for the Nigerian ruling elite if one goes by its attempt toreplicate the Chilean model in terms of the economy and politics, one can only be cautiouslyoptimistic. After seven years of democratic restoration, General Pinochet’s continued control of themilitary has blocked every effort to punish the human rights abuses of his seventeen years rule asChilean Head of State. Through his preserved core of hard right supporters, some of who describe himas the greatest ‘visionary’ Chile has ever known, the elected Chilean government has not been able toexorcise the terrible ghosts of those repressive years. This represents a benchmark of failure for somethat fought for democratic reform while others argue that there is some wisdom in exercising patiencetill General Pinochet leaves the scene. For all practical purposes, he remains the undemocratic spiritguiding Chilean democracy, but the question still remains to be answered: Who guards this Guardian?
  • 6. Although he steps down this year as Commander-in-Chief, a position he retained in 1990 when he gaveway to the democrats, the octogenarian’s influence still runs deep within the civilian, political structurenot just because he remains a Senator for Life, but also as a result of the ‘authoritarian enclaves’ heestablished over the years. For example, there are still 10 non-elected seats to be distributed at hiswhim to subordinate Generals in the Chilean Senate. In addition, any attempt to revisit past humanrights misdeeds since he left office always earned the Pinochet retort ‘I will instruct the army to takeover if you try that’. The Chilean scenario definitely leaves a sour taste in the mouths of many aboutthe future of any consolidating democracy in Nigeria, especially given the pervasive evidence thatevery effort is being made to militarise the Nigerian society in order for military Generals to transformthemselves into ‘elected’ civilian rulers.In spite of the above picture, this is not a discussion that should be hinged strictly on structuraldeterminism which will only succeed in reinforcing the impression that all that is happening seems pre-determined and given. Neither can the issues examined be captured simply through a theorisation ofhistorical experiences which is unchanging, non-dialectical and premised upon the separation of the“domestic” and the “international”, the “economic” and the “political”. The approach therefore is tocapture the civil-military relations dilemma in terms of the complexity of the State-civil-societyrelations in Nigeria whilst explaining how the nature of state power relates to the key forces ofproduction in the economy and society within a political synthesis. If this forms the central premise ofanalysis, we can learn lessons from other lands without being completely shrouded in their ownexperience.Options and Issues for ConsiderationAlthough the place of the military in a democracy was handled differently in the consolidatingdemocracies discussed above, what was common to all the cases is the fact that they tended towardsfinding a professional role and defining a clear role and mission for which the military can takeownership. In ensuring civilian supremacy and a democratic pattern of civil-military relations, thecivilian leadership in a post-military state must help the military with the definition of the role it mustplay in a clear and precise manner. As much as possible, this must be restricted to its traditionalexternal combat role as a means of strengthening civil-military relations. If it must get involved in anyinternal security operations like the Ogoni Internal Security operations and Operation Sweep etc, then aproper criteria would need to be developed for evaluating the involvement of armed forces in non-combat operations.Without being prescriptive about this, any attempt to redefine the role and mission of the Nigerianmilitary, given the declining external security threats faced by the country must consider security in aholistic manner, and pay particular attention to the protection of offshore interests and the promotion ofa professional peace-keeping command given Nigeria’s good record in international peace-keeping
  • 7. operations. This is a regional security mission within a global context that will earn the country a lot ofsupport if handled professionally. This will certainly call for a review of threat perception perspectivesand a redefinition of the defence policy process. If the feeling is however overwhelming that thepredominant threat to the state is mainly internal, not inter-state nor regional insecurity, then thecivilian authority must weigh carefully the involvement of the military in such ventures against theproper funding of law enforcement agencies or the creation of an internal security mechanism thattakes attention away from the Nigerian armed forces. Translated into concrete policy and in the light ofour recognition of internal dimensions of threat, it is safe to argue in favour of an objective threatassessment that concentrates on a containable West-Central Africa security agenda. Hence, whilst therecognition of the place of internal threats may question the necessity of a standing army, our overallperspective on the nature of threats faced is an argument in favour of the retention of a standing armywhose role is clear and measurable.The second issue for consideration is therefore the separation of operational and policy control overbroad defence matters such as size, shape, organisation, equipment, weapon acquisition andpay/conditions in the services on the one hand, and administrative control over the services on theother. The point has been made earlier about how the lack of any expertise on the part of electedcivilian authorities has not allowed room for effective oversight of the various arms of the armedforces. Any redirection of the defence policy process will inevitably require a different kind ofexpertise, which must be a mixture of civilians and military professionals. To sustain this, there is aneed for a significant thawing process through changes in relationships between the military andcivilian political elite, and a significant increase in contacts between Nigerian opinion moulders and theoutside world. The process of agreeing on an appropriate role for the military can only be successfullyachieved in a climate of sustained dialogue. At the moment, the level of contact is non-existent, or juston a social basis and in an unstructured manner. In introducing civilian expertise however, care mustbe taken not to substitute military incompetence in a political setting as damaged as Nigeria’s withcivilian inexperience. That would be a recipe for organisational failure. A possibility is to create aStrategic Cell that may serve as a buffer between a civilian presidency and the military professionals.The question of recruiting into the armed forces is also an issue that has to be resolved as part of theoverall resolution to the nationality question. There is a strong perception, rightly or wrongly, thatthere is a dominant recruitment of ‘Northerners’ into the Nigerian military. Only recently, theChristian Association of Nigeria (CAN), raised this as a fundamental problem. While this is a politicalproblem that cannot be resolved on a rational basis, central to the issue of military recruitment patternsin terms of military professionalism are three central questions: Should our armed forces in ademocratic dispensation be an equals opportunities institution? Should it be a combat effective, battleready force recruited from the most able in the most rigorous and competitive manner? Should themanner of recruitment matter – if the training is standardised and geared towards bringing out the best
  • 8. in every recruit?3 Although the above are the rational questions to which answers must be found, theydo not necessarily constitute the most important issue when the question of structure and process arethe ones generating much attention. These are political issues that can only be resolved through aprocess of confidence building and conflict resolution mechanisms.This is why the central issue to be resolved is the need to negotiate a process of reconciliation(Argentina/Chile) or restitution (South Korea) between the military and the civil society that takesaccount of what is in the long term best interests of human rights and fundamental freedoms inconsolidating democracies as a best practise guide to civil-military relations. In a country like Nigeria,where the military has had a long and chequered history of political intervention and built up immenseeconomic clout, assuaging the fears of the military in a consolidating democracy by a declaration ofamnesty for past misdeeds poses a serious challenge to the strengthening of a stable civil-militaryrelations. Already, several opposition leaders in Nigeria are yearning for the day when the militarywould be brought to account for past actions and any attempt to stop that process happening will beopposed by those important opinion leaders. Yet, the question must be asked, as others must haveasked themselves in Chile, Argentina and Philippines: While restitution may be a necessary, evencathartic exercise, in terms of a sustainable, civil-military relations, might it not exacerbate tensionsrather than attenuate them? This is one of the areas where the right balance must be struck between thesearch for immediate justice and the need for long term stability. The jury is still out on that debate anda lot will depend on how the current crisis is eventually resolved.Another core issue that has to be addressed by any consolidating democracy, especially followingNigeria’s recent experience, is the necessity for civilian political leaders to eschew the temptation ofusing the military to settle scores amongst themselves, if sustainable civil-military relations is to haveany future. Part of the damage that was done to the leaders of the June 12 election was the impressioncreated by some of them that they were trying to use the military to restore the mandate. Even if onedoubts the veracity of such claims, the current regime has won some sympathy with the claims thatthey were invited to take over by the presumed winner of the June 12. The deft assemblage of severalsupporters of the June 12 election into the regime’s maiden cabinet further reinforced such claims.Although we may not know the precise details of what really transpired between Chief Abiola’s campand General Abacha and his men, suffice it to say that there was some understanding between themwhich the military decided to take advantage of. Besides, it is common knowledge that civilianpolitical leaders have in the past either participated actively or encouraged the military to stage coupsagainst their opponents. This not only undermines the fragile political system, but also destroysmilitary professionalism. In essence, the clarity and quality of the post-military leadership willnecessarily determine how these complex issues are resolved in a sustained framework.3 See Kayode Fayemi, “The Politics of Military Recruitment: What is to be done?” Tempo Magazine,28 August 1997, pp.4-5 for an extensive analysis of the Nigerian Armed Forces’ recruitment.
  • 9. But before then, it is my view that the CDD can set the ball rolling in several ways by beginning tonurture and arrange the kind of debates that should take place between the security community and thedemocratic community.Role of the Centre for Democracy and Development1. Given the recognition of the paucity of knowledge on military matters among the civilian political elite, the Centre can design a research and training agenda whose main goal is a thorough understanding of the sociological imperatives driving praetorian armies, especially as these relate to West Africa, but drawing lessons from other places. This information can be disseminated in the form of seminars, workshops and round-tables where representatives of the military and the civil society are always present;2. Provide assistance to fledgling democracies in the region in the articulation of a clearly defined role for the military in a democracy;3. The Centre should as a matter of priority co-ordinate the development of sustained interaction between the military and the civil society on a functional basis which should help in building bridges across divides;4. Provision of assistance in building capacity and training civilians with a view to developing a large pool of national security knowledge in the mass media, think-tanks, universities and other civil- society sectors; and5. Advocating the maintenance of military autonomy in professional defence matters and effective oversight of defence matters by the elected civilian authority.In all, the Centre is in a unique position to play an influential role in the development of an institutionalframework for the understanding of the military, the articulation of a new mission and in the promotionof a sustained dialogue process between the military and the civil society.

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